I am one of those rare ministerial types that does not play golf. Never, not once!
Nor am I much of a sports fan at all. My limited attention span often gets in the way of sitting through an entire game of anything without succumbing to boredom.
What gets me outdoors is, well, the outdoors. I hike and backpack.
Often, my wife joins me camping. In fact, we have a small camper we love to use in the wintertime.
After Christmas, we plan to take our mobile “cabin” out into the woods where the Smoky Mountains spread out as our back porch (and front porch).
I recognize camping is not for everyone, but most everyone appreciates it in theory if not in practice.
Camping, as I am describing it, is a privilege, a recreational hobby. For many in this world, living outdoors is not a luxury or an escape, but a meager way of life and survival.
Refugees, the homeless and other displaced persons hardly think of camping as a pleasant diversion to “get away from it all.” The Holy Family were refugees of sorts.
Ancient Israel camped – 40 years wandering in the wilderness, pitching tents along the way. For worship, they had a portable tent called a tabernacle, the “Tent of Meeting.”
It was a reminder that God was encamping with them in their wanderings. Where they would go, God would go. Where they went, God went. Where they rested, God would rest.
In the Gospel of John, we read echoes of that ancient wilderness sojourn. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
It literally means the Word encamped, or “tabernacled,” among us. God pitches a tent and says, “I am going to wander with you.”
I wonder if Mary pondered any of this as she and Joseph and the infant Jesus in their flight from Herod, escaping into, of all places, Egypt.
The most amazing thing about the birth of Jesus is not the miraculous nature of his coming into the world.
Neither is it the angelic apparitions and announcements nor the mysterious, guiding star noticed by magi from a distant land.
The wonder of the birth of Christ is this brief line about God encamping with humanity. And not just way back then, in a time and place far, far away from our contemporary lives.
God is still pitching a tent right beside our displacements, upheavals and wanderings.
God encamps alongside our celebrations and alongside our failures.
God encamps alongside our frantic busyness to achieve, to do and to acquire, and God encamps alongside our stillness and solitude when the world has gotten just too noisy.
God even encamps alongside us when we just want to be alone, keeping a quiet watch as we stare into the campfire and deal with whatever it is life is dealing with us about.
The Word becoming flesh and living, camping, pitching a tent with us is not about comforting us into passivity.
It is God’s invitation to envision and imagine a life-giving way to wander in this world.
Life is not about escapism or denial of what goes on in the world. The one who dwelt and dwells still among us is calling us to engage this world as if we really believe God has come to save this world.
To do justice and proclaim peace is the work of God’s messengers – angelic, as well as for the rest of us.
This “light of all the people” that “shines in the darkness” is also a call for us, in the words of Jesus himself, to “let your light shine before others.”
This shapes how we speak. This shapes how we think. This shapes how we treat our neighbor as well as how we welcome the stranger.
We are to be going somewhere in all of our wanderings, arriving not alone, but with others longing for home.
As we make our way hiking into this new year, if someone should invite you to go camping, think about it.
Before doubt or fear nudge you to say “no way” or before grief or anxiety rob you of the energy, remember that God has already entered into our risk and walks with us.
If we allow, God will also lead the way.
Interim Dean at McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University and Director of Development at McAfee School of Theology and College of Professional Advancement.